Two Seattle Police Chiefs: One a Drug Czar, the Other a "Legalizer"

by Norm Stamper, NORML Advisory Board Member
Anyone blind to the irony? Gil Kerlikowske, my successor, is on his way to the other Washington to assume the mantle of “drug czar.” I am, on the other hand, a proud and vocal member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Gil will have a national, indeed international platform from which to make his case for a continuation of the nation’s drug laws. I’ll use this space, at least for this initial post, to make the argument that our drug policies don’t work, and that the “War on Drugs” has caused far more harm than good.
Since Richard Nixon pronounced drugs “Public Enemy Number One” and declared all-out war on them in 1971, we have spent over $1 trillion prosecuting that war. We’ve incarcerated tens of millions of our fellow citizens for nonviolent drug offenses, arresting wildly disproportionate numbers of young people, poor people, people of color–most for simple possession of marijuana. Wrenched from their families, these folks have lost jobs, forfeited school loans, been booted out of public housing. And to what end?
Drugs are more readily available today, at lower prices and higher levels of potency than in the history of the drug war. Prices fluctuate, use levels ebb and flow but one thing remains constant: the unrepealable law of supply and demand. If people want mood or mind-altering drugs, suppliers will make sure they get them. And, as long as those drugs remain illegal, the illicit, untaxed profits associated with them will continue to grow. As will the violence associated with their commerce.
Prohibition, as we learned during the 1920s, breeds lawlessness. In fact, it guarantees it. Yesterday’s bootleggers and today’s drug traffickers must arm themselves in order to protect or expand their markets. For years we’ve struggled with open-air drug markets, drive-by/drug-related killings, the police in one city or another occasionally shooting up the wrong house in a drug raid.
Americans wised up to the folly of alcohol prohibition, repealing the Volstead Act in 1933 and putting a virtual end to that era’s drive-bys (picture Al Calpone’s minions firing Thompsons from the back seat of a ’29 Model A), drug overdose deaths (think bad bathtub gin), property values shot to hell, entire neighborhoods rundown if not abandoned altogether.
Replacing alcohol prohibition with a regulatory model worked. Not perfectly, of course, but well enough that it drove the bootleggers out of business. And it produced a formidable barrier between kids and products they ought not to be taking. (When’s the last time you heard of a street drug dealer carding a 14-year-old?) Regulation and control of alcohol made our communities healthier, our children safer.
Seattle and the state of Washington are poised to take a strong leadership position in the campaign for sane and sensible drug laws. We’ve passed a medical marijuana law, and Seattleites have made simple, adult marijuana possession cases the lowest law enforcement priority in the city. University of Washington researchers Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert just last week issued a report that concluded that “penalizing doesn’t reduce use of marijuana and lessening or removing penalties doesn’t increase it.”
Think of the money we’d save if we focused our law enforcement resources on people who drive under the influence of any drug, including alcohol. Or who furnish drugs to kids. Or who, under the influence of booze or other drugs, jealousy, insecurity or greed, steal a car, batter a spouse, abuse a child, rob a bank…
And think of the lives we’d save if we invested not in a futile drug war but in prevention, education and treatment.
I doubt our new drug czar will favor an end to prohibition. For one thing, it would put him out of a job. But perhaps, unlike former drug czar John Walters, he’ll be willing to listen to the argument. Or debate its merits.
This article was originally published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

0 thoughts

  1. And please tell me Norm Stamper this letter has been sent to Obama and anyone else that’s at least willing to listen and consider your sane words.

  2. I agree with Jordan, because if you think the new drug czar won’t be for legalization, then we are in for at least another 4 years of prohibition, despite the current momentum for legalization. 4 years is much too long to wait for something no more harmful than coffee to become a legally obtained substance.

  3. Norm, it’s my great hope that you’re somehow able to work closely with Gil if at all possible over the next few years or so. From what I’ve been reading these past couple of months online, it appears that the two of you have some sort of camaraderie? Is that right?
    If so, I hope that it carries over to today, even though he’s in D.C. now and you’re not. I hope hope hope hope HOPE so very much that you can be a positive and constructive influence on him and the DEA at large and that you continue to speak out against prohibition.
    Speaking of the DEA, do you know anything about who they’re going to appoint as the head of their department over there once Obama’s team gets around to it? Are you interested in the job?
    As far as I can tell, you’re our #1 connecting bridge to their world, as I think we all feel they’re very much out of touch as it is with ours, though leaning towards science based decisions is a great start. I feel like we still have a little ways to go yet. I guess I really don’t know, but it would certainly be nice to know for certain where the DEA stands on dealing with marijuana issues. I want to hear it from them.
    Thanks for your compassion, outreach and just being such a wonderful part of the movement for reform.
    Take care and thanks again.

  4. I don’t think it would put him out of a job at all. It would simply redirect his activities from focusing on punishment to focusing on education. And, if people could trust what the guy was saying they might listen. How many people would want to do heroin if they actually got to see people talk about it that it messed up? When it killed Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin it woke people up. When it kills people today it should do the same thing but with the fried egg on drug thing it was just nonsense and people therefore believed that it was probably not harmful just because the govt said it was. If more people knew the real hazard of meth and heroin perhaps they would look elsewhere for their buzz and if not…perhaps we could help them through it instead of throwing them in jail to rot.

  5. Thank You Mr. Stamper, I am so glad you so eloquently speak up for those of us who wish to see and end to Prohibition. The War on Drugs does far more damage to our society than the Drugs.

  6. sorry to get off subject but president obama is going to appear on the jay leno show tonight he will be discussing the economic situaution lets see if we can’t get jay to bring up the legalization question. Everybody email the tonight show and let them know your thoughts.

  7. Norm Stamper. You are not just a Drug Law Reform activist; but a student of Tolerance as well. Good luck, man….I hope you can encourage more folks to lean towards reason.

  8. Thanks Norm for those words of wisdom!
    When pure pharmaceutical grade Bayer heroin was legally sold in local pharmacies and grocery stores for pennies per dose the term “drug-related crime” didn’t exist, and neither was the United States the most incarcerated nation in history.
    Nobody is suggesting that drugs are harmless and certainly youngsters must be educated about and deterred from their use. However the current system of prohibition does nothing to protect children and criminalises what would be otherwise law abiding citizens. Prohibition was expected to rid the world of drugs by now, but the drugs trade which is reckoned to be the second largest world trade after oil is totally in the hands of criminals. To continue with present policies is to accept and effectively tolerate the existence of the criminal gangs that control the trade.

  9. This needs to be read by someone who is willing to do something. Very well written, great read. Keep it coming! Someday the marijuana cigarette will be smoked freely.

  10. @Jordan –
    When he was here in Seattle, he was part of a corrupt, power-driven drug prohibition machine.
    He was part of a regime that used drug laws, police informants, and set up drug buys inside the businesses of innocent people in order to shut them down.
    Once he left Seattle, he started preaching the LEAP line.
    He may talk the good talk now, but he will always be one of the “bad guys” in my book.

  11. My guess is the new drug czar will do his job and enforce the law. To change the law change the CONGRESS.
    STOP trying to change your congressman’s closed mind and work for his or her removal. Maybe someday pot smokers will have an organization to marshal their collective political will, until then I guess Norml is the next best thing.

  12. If so many intelligent people understand that prohibition doesn’t work why is it still being pursued? Does anyone in a position to actually change this policy have this same understanding. I think our political system handcuffs those that may want to see this policy changed. Maybe we need a veitnam era style protests to get the governments attention. It should be peaceful and well organized but it should take place in every major city in america on the same day. Let’s tell them how we really feel about this. We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!!!

  13. okay so again we are worried about drugs, in america, what about all this money we just gave to aig. and we again are worried about pot. Didn’t we rescue crooks in the 80’s for savings and loan scandal? Why are we still arresting people for pot , and not for basically stealing the american tax payer for billions of dollars ?? what a crock

  14. LEAP is an incredibly powerful voice of sanity. We should all dig into our pockets and support their work, which includes sending out speakers to talk about transforming our drug policy. Make a painless donation by buying some of the merchandise they offer. If you care about ending prohibition, your money could not be better spent.

  15. #14 – Rachel H: “He” meaning Norm Stamper?
    If this is the case I’d CERTAINLY love to hear from “him”.
    I don’t doubt your comment Rachel H., just want to hear a reply, a comment from either NORML people or Norm.
    What’s that? I’m listening ……. .

  16. i would have to agree with joe mama…..there are slightly more pressing issues right now other than keeping potheads locked up. people like madoff and the wall street jerks that have ruined this country are getting away with it, not only that sex offenders and child molesters get lighter sentences than a non violent drug offender?? WTF! that seems to send a message to me that its ok for perverts to rape our children…but smoking a bowl is going way to far!…because if i want to be PEACEFUL, not hurt anyone or steal their money, and smoke a bowl of weed i can go to jail for that. the priorities in this country are so wack backwards its ridiculous.

  17. O.K., so I won’t get an answer, sigh ….
    Here’s something that may be of interest:
    The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history — some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That’s $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second.
    I’ve been following this since the early days and have come to a conclusion that is never voiced: this whole thing came in three parts.
    In the first part, the “shadow banking system” created garbage bonds and sold them to bondholders (suckers). This was supposed to play out that the suckers got taken and life would go on. But!
    In the second part, the “shadow banking system” chose to become their own suckers. The owner of the Mirage casino does not go over to the Bellagio casino and play craps on borrowed money. But that is exactly what these guys did: they played in their own casino and burned themselves and each other (C.f. Goldman shorting AIG and buying insurance from AIG. I am not allowed to buy 10 fire insurance policies on your house.)
    Unfortunately, the casino is the “engine room” of the economy and that’s why we’re dead in the water.
    In the third part, the “engine room” does not want to get repaired for a few reasons: 1) the extent of the damage requires replacement rather than repairs, 2) the disclosure of this would quite likely sink the ship, and 3) (the third rail of international finance) fantastic amounts of drug and other criminal funds are involved. Disclosing this would either sink the ship or involve replacing the entire crew or both.
    Another suggestion: reduce the deductibility of debt payments. This whole thing is about debt pyramids: remove the granite quarry and the pyramids will stop getting built.

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